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Denmark’s prime minister faces inquiry over decision to cull minks

A parliamentary commission is to grill Denmark's prime minister Mette Frederiksen on Thursday over her government's illegal decision last year to cull all farmed minks nationwide over fears of a new coronavirus strain.

A demonstrator holds a sign reading
A demonstrator holds a sign reading "why is Mette lying" as the Danish PM arrives for questioning over her government's decision to cull mink in 2020. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Formerly the world’s leading exporter of mink fur, the Scandinavian country in November last year controversially decided to kill all of its 15-17 million minks after studies suggested the variant found in some of the animals could jeopardise the effectiveness of future vaccines.

The commission will be seeking to determine whether Frederiksen was aware that the order had no legal basis — a fact that emerged soon after the cull was underway and led the country’s agriculture minister to resign.

At the time, the government only had the authority to ask mink farmers in the seven municipalities affected by the mutation to cull their minks.

But an agreement was reached retroactively, rendering the government’s decision legal, and the nationwide cull went ahead as planned.

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Prior to the cull, Denmark was also the world’s second largest producer of mink fur after China.

A specially appointed parliamentary commission has since April been scrutinising the government’s decision and all documents related to it, as well as questioning witnesses to dissect the decision-making process.

Ultimately, the commission will decide whether or not to recommend that the matter be brought before a special court that judges the actions of cabinet members while in office.

Frederiksen has maintained that she did not know her decision was unlawful, and insisted that it was “based on a very serious risk assessment”.

“So far, during the hearings, we have not seen any evidence that the prime minister was aware of the illegality,” Frederik Waage, a law professor at the University of Southern Denmark, told AFP.

“As someone who was personally very involved in the handling of the case… it is obviously important to hear her own version of events,” Waage stressed.

In October, controversy around the decision was reignited when it was revealed that Frederiksen’s text messages from the time had disappeared.

Her office said they had been automatically deleted after 30 days for security reasons.

But many politicians greeted the claim with scepticism. Only two of the 51 ministers and ex-ministers interviewed by public broadcaster DR said they had the same setting installed on their phones while in office.

The commission called on police and intelligence services to help, but they were unable to recover the text messages.

Media and lawmakers have repeatedly questioned Frederiksen on the issue.

According to political commentator Hans Engell, her at times annoyed responses have become a problem of their own, as the opposition has managed to capitalise on the subject and keep it in the headlines.

“It is clear that the government and Mette Frederiksen are very irritated,” he wrote in the daily Berlingske.

Unlike the Delta or Omicron variants, the mink mutation has disappeared.

A few weeks after the cull in the North Jutland region in northwestern Denmark, where many mink farms were concentrated, the mutation was declared extinct.

The Danish parliament later passed an emergency law which banned the breeding of the mammals in 2021, which was then extended to 2022, devastating the industry.

Mink is the only animal so far confirmed to be capable of both contracting Covid-19 and recontaminating humans, which is why it has been under special surveillance during the pandemic.

The commission is due to report its findings in April 2022.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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